Commentary

The five keys to Florida vs. Alabama

Analyzing the last 12 battles between top-5 defenses shows what will win in Atlanta

Updated: December 3, 2009, 10:16 AM ET
By Bill Connelly | Football Outsiders
Urban Meyer and Nick SabanGetty ImagesTime to knuckle up, gentlemen.

When the No. 1 Florida Gators and No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide face off for both the SEC title and (logically) a bid in the BCS Championship Game, two of the nation's three best defenses will take the field. In terms of Football Outsiders' main college measures, Florida's defense ranks first in both Defensive S&P+ and Defensive FEI, while Alabama ranks third in both.

In the past five seasons, top-5 defenses (according to Defensive S&P+) have faced each other 12 times (see the inline table), and while there is occasionally an offensive explosion (USC scored 55 on Oklahoma in 2004, while Ohio State and Michigan combined for 81 points in 2006), most of the time these battles produce exactly the type of slugfest you'd expect. Thirteen of the 24 competitors in these games scored fewer than 20 points, while only six scored more than 30. In games in which any sort of easy points -- caused by big offensive plays, turnovers, etc. -- could make the difference, which factors end up most closely determining wins and losses?


To learn about the five statistics you should monitor as you scarf down appetizers during the SEC title game -- and to find out in what percentage of previous meetings of top defenses they've been a deciding factor -- you must be an ESPN Insider.